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Defending the Women Who Defend Human Rights

Some of the most at-risk activists in the world are women who, often in violent settings, bravely promote a vision of a less violent world. They must not stand alone, and the international community has a responsibility to protect them from retaliation and intimidation.

NEW YORK – Fighting injustice always demands courage, but the risks that women human-rights defenders face are often overlooked. These women bravely embrace the vulnerability that comes with raising their voices, and they must not stand alone. More effort is needed to protect them from reprisal and intimidation.

Women human-rights defenders are on the frontlines of many current conflicts and are some of our most effective peacebuilders. They often work in war zones to prevent or respond to sexual and gender-based violence, which spikes during conflicts and can be used as a weapon of war. The United Nations verified over 3,000 cases of conflict-related sexual violence in 2021. More recently, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine documented cases of Russian soldiers raping women at gunpoint during house-to-house searches.

The women activists who devote their lives to promoting the vision of a less violent world often pay a steep price. In Colombia, Daniela Soto was shot twice in her abdomen by armed civilians in May 2021. She has been advocating for human rights, particularly the rights of indigenous peoples, from a young age. Five months after the attack, Soto spoke at the UN Security Council, lamenting the continued killings of indigenous women leaders by armed groups in her home department of Cauca and other parts of the country.

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